Profile Of The News Consumer p.6

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez

The broad audience, long targeted by mass media, may no longer be a reality, as a new study shows wide disparity in news interest and consumption among demographic groups.

"Although keeping up with the news is at least somewhat important to almost all Americans, people diverge radically in what interests them, which media they use, and how often they follow the news," the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation reported in its latest study, "Profile of the American News Consumer," part of its News in the Next Century project.

With news preferences differing by "gender, generation, education, socioeconomic status and access to technology," RTNDF concluded that the "interaction among all these differences means that not everyone will be satisfied with all the programming now available, which produces a great opportunity for the news producer of the future to explore new media and new methods to deliver the news."

While more than half (54%) of Americans said that keeping up with the news was very important to them, a schism can be seen between those under 30 who believe that (40%), and those over 50, to whom keeping up with the news is very important (65%).

Nevertheless, just over half (51%) of respondents under age 30 said keeping up with the news was somewhat important. Thirty-seven percent of the general public answered similarly.

When it comes to following news of public affairs and government, two-thirds of the public said they do so most of the time (34%) or some of the time (34%), while 17% do so daily, now and then and 15% said they, follow it hardly, at all.

Significant differences were found by RTNDF when it looked at the specifics of who was following public affairs/government news most of the time: 41% of men reported doing so, compared to only 28% of women; more older Americans fell into this category (51% of those over 50%), compared to younger (19% of those under 30); and nearly half of the college graduates (49%) responded similarly.

In addition, nearly, half of those who go online (47%) or subscribe to America Online (48%) said they follow public affairs/government news most of the time.

But following the news and retaining it do not necessarily go hand in hand, as the RTNDF discovered.

Among the general public, fully 60% knew that there was a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and nearly half (49%) could name Newt Gingrich as the Speaker of the House at the time the survey was conducted, but only 6% knew that William H. Rehnquist was chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Less than half (41%) of the public answered two or more of those questions correctly.

As with earlier figures, the survey found great disparities between gender, age and education when political/social knowledge was tested.

Half of the men surveyed (50%) answered two or more of the political questions correctly, compared to only a third (32%) of women. Similar splits were seen in age, where 49% of those over 50 answered two or more questions correctly but only 31% of those under 30 did the same. Almost two-thirds (64%) of college graduates proffered two or more correct answers, compared to just over a quarter (28%) of those with a high school diploma or less.

Interestingly, those who go online or subscribe to AOL scored well in their social/political knowledge: 62% of online users and 60% of AOL subscribers answered two or more of the political questions correctly, and they scored higher than any other group in percentages answering each correctly.

Newspaper readers -- those who said newspapers were their primary source of most information -- also answered more questions correctly than those who used other media.

For example, nearly half (49%) of those who turn primarily to newspapers answered two or more questions correctly, compared to 39% for radio and 37% for television. …


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